A few strategies for beating stress – Graham Tomlinson

It is no wonder that stress is often thought of as a silent killer. It is dangerous to our health and wellbeing in so many ways – a cause of everything from depression and anxiety to sleep deprivation and heart disease. But it is also incredibly subtle: while we can smoke a cigarette or eat a high fat meal and know that it is damaging our health, the causes of stress are often much harder to spot.

Being able to identify the factors that cause us stress and doing everything we can to eliminate them from our lives is, I believe, one of the most important things we can do to improve our own health and well-being. Of course, it is impossible to eliminate stress completely, and low levels of stress are (arguably) good for us, motivating us to sometimes perform at a higher level that we may have done without it.

But fundamentally, too much of it is a very bad thing – and so I wanted to share a few of the best strategies I have come across to deal with it.

Give up (a little)

In my experience one of the most common forms of stress is that sense that things are piling up and slipping out of your control. It could be a work situation – for example a mountain of tasks on your to-do list that is only growing bigger. Or, it might be something more personal – someone near to you who is asking more and more of you and demanding too much of your time and attention with their own personal problems.

The key to beating this sense of being overwhelmed is firstly to give up trying to be sure about everything. What do I mean by this? Well, at work, we try to control everything by making lists, creating systems and demanding definitive answers to our problems. We do the same in our personal lives, attempting to nail slippery emotions and feelings down in order to be exactly sure about where we stand with our friends and family.

The first trick, then, is to just let go a bit – not in order to completely relinquish control or responsibility, but rather just to recognise that the world is imperfect, other people are imperfect, and that demanding perfect answers to our problems is a sure-fire way to just create more stress in our lives.

Engage and share

The counterpoint to this act of letting go is to then re-engage with the things that are stressing you out, but on your own terms. Real problems don’t go away if you just ignore them of course, and so it is  necessary to address them – but the difference is that it important to face the things that are causing you stress one at a time, and with the attitude that a perfect solution might not always be achievable.

Importantly, this doesn’t mean that you should give up on your dreams – but rather that you just shouldn’t get too attached to them. A great way of adopting this new, more flexible approach to the things you want to achieve is to share these challenges with others. The great thing about tackling problems and talking with other people about the things that are causing you worry and stress is that they will almost certainly be able to provide you with some well needed perspective. It may be that they are also stressed by the same things (in which you can form a joint strategy for taking them on) – but there is also a good chance that they’re not, and they will be able to give you an insight into what it will take to beat your own worries.

Create breathing space

On one level, I mean this quite literally – learn some breathing exercises, do them and practice them daily. You can go as deep into this area as you like, of course, but I’ve found that just breathing properly and mindfully is a huge help in stressful situations – one of the first things you forget to do when you’re worrying is to breathe.

But I also mean this on a broader level: the need to build some breathing space into our lives in a more practical sense.

So, by this I mean do things like make sure there’s a little gap between the tasks you set yourself at work. Make sure that there is at least some time in your day when you go outside, take a deep breath and look around you. Try to build in time for a walk into your daily routine – even if it means doing something as simple as getting off your bus one stop too early.

Build this kind of valuable space into your physical and mental daily routine, and you will find that you have more room to give the challenges you face the attention they deserve – just a little bit of focused, timely attention – and nothing more or less than that.

About Graham Tomlinson’s blog

Graham Tomlinson blogs regularly on his website, and has designed the perfect platform for sharing mindfulness & self-improvement tips with as many people as possible.

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